Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Christ our Passover

(Scroll down for a video link)

You know, I used to idolize traditional corporate worship.

Yeah, yeah:  Chalk up yet another weird obsession for this different-drumbeat blogger - who, speaking of drums, still isn't crazy about them in church!

Well, with the exception of timpani. But more about that in a minute.

Back when I was a kid, corporate worship was merely something your parents made you attend.  It wasn't important or unimportant, fun or awful, traditional or contemporary, or anything else.  It just was.  Every Sunday.  Even on vacation.

It Used to be Called the City of Churches

Then, after college, I moved to the borough of Brooklyn in New York City.  In the 1990's, young unmarried adults had yet to flock over to Brooklyn from Manhattan (once again, I was before my time).  And in Brooklyn's rough Sunset Park neighborhood, as in much of the borough, many of the singles my age either had kids, were in and out of jail, or both.  For them, church was where people had funerals.

So... I found myself unable to find a solid, Bible-believing church with a decent singles ministry in all of Brooklyn, and becoming profoundly aware of the void being without a community of faith can create.  Although today, I'm no longer convinced single adults must prioritize singles ministries when they church-shop, back then, even though there was a Gospel-oriented Baptist church only two blocks away, I dismissed it because it was mostly families and senior citizens.

Back in Texas, my family had been suggesting I try the venerable Calvary Baptist in midtown Manhattan, but they understood my hesitancy because of the commute; on weekends, with sporadic subway service, it was at least an hour one-way.  But finally, practically in desperation, I took the plunge and checked out Calvary.

When I walked through Calvary's thick, wood doors off of 57th Street, I felt immediately at home, even though I didn't know a soul there.  Wow.  I've never experienced anything like it.  During a previous visit years ago, I learned their worship format was traditional, but that really didn't mean much to me at the time.  The church from which I had come in Texas had a mild contemporary mix, but back then, I was naive to the brewing contemporary/traditional controversy.  All I knew when I walked into the foyer at Calvary that Sunday was that I'd found my church home in the big, bad city.

It didn't take long for me to fall in love - with the worship format at Calvary. Majestic and robust, this was doing church like I'd never seen it done before.  We recited psalms.  The choir would sing a plaintive response to pastoral prayers. The congregation would erupt into mighty hymns, the organ in full vibrato causing the wood floor to quake under our feet.  And from the sanctuary's main level, I'd look up into the horseshoe-shaped balcony, packed with people of ethnicities from across the globe, and marvel - sometimes with tears in my eyes - at how it all must be a foretaste of glory divine.

If you haven't really experienced a Biblical, God-focused, traditional service born of an orthodox desire to worship our Creator instead of the created, then you likely have no clue as to what you're missing.  Yes, a lot of Americans today immediately protest comments like mine with accusations of preferences, desires for keeping up with the culture, and a lot of other populist rationalizations for why designing a corporate worship service for God instead of us doesn't make sense.

Substance SHOULD be the Style

And for a while, back in Texas, I dove into this controversy with gusto, first as a conscientious objector, trying to tolerate contemporary styles. Then as a refugee from the seeker/contemporary movement, ultimately landing at my current Presbyterian church.  And then reveling in its worship style so obnoxiously that it took the Holy Spirit to convict me for attending church not for the sermon or even the fellowship, but the style.

The same reason a lot of contemporary aficionados attend rock-and-roll churches, and think I'm a blithering idiot.


It's taken a while, and even though I'm still convinced traditional, classical worship glorifies God best, you're not a heretic in my book if you don't take my side. Well, not completely, anyway.  But that doesn't mean I'm going to give up trying to explain my point of view.

Now, before you click off this blog in disgust, please hear me out!  I've even got a video for you visualists out there.

This past Sunday where I worship, our Chancel Choir sang Christ Our Passover, composed by Robert MacFarlane in 1906. It's one of my favorite pieces in my church choir's repertoire, combining all of the elements necessary for Christ-centric worship music:  scripture set to a score exemplifying the best practices of composition and performed on acoustic instruments.  In other words, music with objective integrity.

So you'll understand my giddy desire to share this glorious Eastertide anthem with you, even if you have to stretch to the depths of your patience to indulge me.

And by the way, about the timpani:  several years ago, the former choir director where I worship commissioned an accompaniment with brass and timpani for this piece from Sterling Procter, whose arrangement you'll hear in just a moment.  Who says classical music has to be boring?

Below, I've provided the text for the piece, which is 100% solid scripture.  Use it for your reference along with a YouTube video of the work sung on Resurrection Sunday this year at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church on New York City's Park Avenue.  Although the video is not of the best quality, it does convey the wonderful spirit of this anthem which celebrates Christ, Who was indeed sacrificed for us:

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast; not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 6:9-11)

Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept! For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive! (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: World without end. Amen!

I'm telling you: if this doesn't call you out of your mortality for at least a brief moment and fill your mind with awe for what God has done for you, you probably don't need to be reading my blog right now.

Instead, you need to be re-reading the incredible scriptures I referenced above!

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